Thursday, March 21, 2013

Holocaust art a symbol of empowerment

Professors present, perform the art of the "end of the world" as a part of conference

by Rachel Diebel, A&E Writer

Empowerment was the focus of the lecture “Art and the Holocaust: Understanding Aesthetic Experience as Empowerment” on March 14. 

Part of the School of Arts and Communications' empowerment series, it was in conjunction with the Holocaust Memorial Lecture Series. 

Assistant Professor Heather Mathews took the podium opening with, “art shows us how the representation of the human experience can be an empowering act.” 

She pointed to an image of an expansive memorial that resembles gravestones, and said art “is representing the un-representable.” 

Mathews also lectured about the role of art in personal and collective memories of the Holocaust. 

She first explored monuments of collective memory and then moved on to artists’ personal experiences with the Holocaust.

“Art is a means of communication,” Mathews said. “It tells us about ourselves.”  
In the lecture, Mathews discussed and displayed many artists’ personal art about the Holocaust, from survivors to the dependents of perpetrators.  

“I like how she incorporated many different mediums,” first-year Katie Coddington said, who attended the lecture.  “It was really interesting to hear her talk about how much the art is not only of despair but also of hope.”  

Some artists chose to express their emotions by exploring space, like Kitty Klaidman, who hid in a family friend’s attic during the Holocaust. 

Klaidman’s paintings show the space she lived in for many months.  She has said that her paintings are a way of making peace with the past. Others chose to deal with the past by remembering specific victims.

After the lecture, university professors Svend Rønning, Craig Rine, Richard Treat and Cameron Bennett performed an eight-movement symphony composed by Olivier Messiaen while he was imprisoned in a German work camp.  

The symphony, entitled “Symphony for the End of the World,” originally premiered during the dead of winter and  prisoners and guards alike listened to it at the camp.

“It was so hard to believe that the music we are listening to was played in the barracks of a German prison camp,” first-year attendee Maylen Anthony said, “and now we’re listening to it in Lagerquist.  I really enjoyed hearing it.”

The symphony is very atonal and may sound strange to an average listener, but that is appropriate for a symphony composed during the Holocaust. 

“It’s interesting to see h-ow an event like the Holocaust can be reflected in music to that extent, “ Coddington said.  

The symphony had an extremely emotional effect on all who were present at its original premiere.  The violin player never played again after performing.

Mathews summed up the theme of the lecture in one sentence: “these artists hope that their memories might lead to positive change.” 

She also stressed the importance of remembering these horrible events, even if it is painful.  “Engagement with the past is crucial for the present.”